Opening address of Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, at the 5th Global Conference of the Alliance for Healthy Cities

Brisbane, Australia
24 October 2012


I am always pleased to be in Brisbane, especially to attend the 5th Global Conference of the Alliance for Healthy Cities.

I would also like to thank the Mayor of Logan City for her hospitality in hosting this global conference.

It is impressive to see so many city representatives from all over the Region gathered to share their experiences and ideas — and empowering to learn about how local actions can make such a difference in the lives of people in urban areas.

We live in an era of rapid and unprecedented urbanization. The Western Pacific Region —which is already home to one- fourth of the world's population — is expected to grow more rapidly than any other part of the world.

Most of the growth will be in cities. This trend is not inherently bad for health.

Urban populations are generally better off than their rural counterparts because they have better access to health care and social services, to education, to food and clean water, to name just a few benefits.

However, the picture changes drastically with unplanned, uncontrolled urbanization and poor urban governance.

When cities have great inequities, urban health averages can be misleading.

The averages often cover up huge differences between socioeconomic groups — the fact, for example, that children from the poorest urban families are roughly twice as likely to die as children from the richest urban families.

Effectively addressing complex urban health challenges requires concerted action.

Healthy Cities can be part of the solution.

Since the late 1980s, WHO in the Western Pacific Region has initiated and promoted the Healthy Cities initiative as an integrated and multisectoral approach to address urban health issues.

The Healthy Cities approach aims to create and improve the physical and social environments that impact health.

Healthy Cities promote collaboration among different sectors.

They foster community participation and empowerment, and they maximize the effectiveness of local governance.

One of our focuses is on strengthening urban governance.

We help build capacity for action by strengthening skills needed for good urban governance.

Some of you may have participated in the Healthy Cities Leadership course held prior to this conference.

WHO will continue to provide evidence-based, practice-oriented, battle-tested guidance to manage urban health issues.

WHO will continue to facilitate the all-important sharing of experiences and best practices to make cities healthier places to live, work and play.

Cities are at a critical stage of development. They are at-risk of being suffocated by the problems inherent in rapid growth, such as traffic, crime and environmental change.

At this time, the Healthy Cities approach is more relevant than ever.

Healthy Cities programmes can give city planners and policy-makers the tools to minimize the negative aspects of growth and maximize the potential to make urban areas liveable and healthy.

There are no one-size-fits all approach to resolving complex, urban issues, and Healthy Cities is not a cure-all for the problems of cities.

But we can all join forces and learn from each other to make sure that the lessons learnt in Brisbane can benefit policy-makers in Vientiane, or vice versa.

For the next two days, you will have the chance to share experiences and expand your networks.

Look upon it as an opportunity to consult with all your peers to help guide your city's path towards healthy urbanization.

I wish you great success in your discussions and deliberations at this 5th Global Conference of the Alliance for Healthy Cites.

Thank you.